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Copyright © 2003-2004 Phil Elmore, all rights reserved.
Carrying Pocket Sticks
By Phil Elmore
Five or six inches of wood, plastic, or metal doesn't seem like much, does it? A dowel not much bigger than an ergonomic writing pen is actually among one of the most effective close-quarters self-defense weapons you probably aren't carrying. Innocuous, usually legal, and very useful, the pocket stick is an accessory that everyone can afford.
Pocket sticks go by various names. Many people call them kubotans (named for Tak Kubota) or yawara sticks (which might strike some as calling a bo a "bo staff," but let's not get picky here). Don Cunningham, in his book Secret Weapons of Jujutsu, indicates that fist loads were sometimes referred to as tenouchi (literally, "inside the hand"). There is also the koppo, a pocket stick with a loop of cord for the index and middle fingers. (The concept is similar to that of the suntetsu, also described in Mr. Cunningham's book -- a metal pocket stick with a metal or flexible loop for the middle finger.)
Don Rearic's excellent website includes several articles on the koppo and related pocket sticks. The polymer koppo keychain pictured at right was created by Mr. Rearic.
USING POCKET STICKS
Techniques used with pocket sticks can be as simple or as complex as you decide to make them. I'll let you seek out the various resources on the yawara, particularly, or the manual(s) written for Tak Kubota's kubotan. To summarize, however, pocket sticks can be used in the following ways:
Many people carry the pocket stick as a keychain, which makes good sense. Keychains are seen by most others (including authority figures) as just that -- benign, everyday items. On a trip to a Six Flags amusement park after September 11, 2001, my wife and I were confronted by metal detectors at the main gate. My tiny Swiss Army Knife and Leatherman Micra were confiscated, but they let me walk away with my polymer koppo without giving it a second glance.
If you do carry a pocket stick as a keychain, avoid the ridiculous advice to use it as a handle with which to flail your cluster of keys at an attacker. This might irritate someone but is of very little offensive (or defensive) value. Keys are just too light to accomplish much when used in this fashion (though of course flicking them to the attacker's eyes will have some effect).
I carry my car key on my koppo. The key is attached with a quick-detach keyring so I don't have to leave my koppo if I need to surrender my car key to a mechanic or rental agency. (Quick-detach rings are cheap and readily available wherever car accessories are sold. Buy yourself a few to keep for each pocket stick. If possible, buy the same brand so you can detach your key from one pocket stick and attach it again to another one if you feel like switching them.)
One of the most common questions people ask about pocket sticks (after inquiring about how to use them for defense) is how to carry them. Everyone is different. Depending on your body type, you may find them uncomfortable to carry in your front pockets. I've read accounts of people who carry them upright in their back pockets next to their wallets, with or without paracord lanyards to facilitate pulling them out (some people find that keys on the pocket stick get in the way when using the stick for defensive techniques or locks or what have you). You might choose to carry the pocket stick in the front or inside pocket of a jacket. You might also simply carry it in your hand all the time, if you're one of those people who almost never carries keys in his or her pockets when out and about.
My own preference is to carry a single car key on my koppo. The key dangles freely from my pocket as it would if the keys were attached to one of those belt rings some folks wear. (Yes, it jingles about a bit, and yes, if you're afraid of muggers running past to snag lanyards or other items hanging from your pockets, you will not be comfortable with this method.) The key keeps the pocket stick more or less in the same position all the time and provides me with an easy means of drawing it.
When I draw the koppo (with my left hand -- I have become accustomed to performing pocket stick techniques with the left hand because that is where I carry my keys in order to leave my right front pocket free for a tactical folding knife), the key helps me index the pocket stick automatically. As the pocket stick is drawn up, it is in the perfect position for hammerfist strikes while the key is in my hand and ready for a quick entry to the automobile.
As with everything, how you choose to carry and deploy your pocket stick is a function of what works best for you. You still have many options before you, however. You must choose from wooden, metal, and plastic pocket sticks from a variety of manufacturers and sources.
SELECTING POCKET STICKS
The standard kubotan is fairly widely available and a pretty good choice. I've seen them of plastic and metal. The same basic shape can also be had in wood. What you prefer will depend largely on the relative weights of the sticks.
One substitute for pocket sticks that is even more innocuous in appearance than these keychains is small flashlights. The standard AA maglight is the perfect size for use as a pocket stick (though striking with real force is almost certain to damage it in some way). By way of my friend Don Rearic I learned to apply to a flashlight a "koppo barrel wrap," as illustrated below by Don. This provides a loop for the fingers. (To learn to do this, buy a good book on knots. Get some cord and experiment -- there is no substitute for practice. I've written an article on it here.) There are other methods of applying finger rings to these tools, too.
"Koppo-ized" flashlight. Photo by Don Rearic.
There are quite a few tapered metal pocket sticks on the market. The taper makes blows with the tip of the pocket stick more powerful by concentrating the force in a smaller area. This may or may not be a good thing. Some may find these types of sticks are actually less comfortable in the pocket. Others will worry that a tapered stick is more likely to be seen as a weapon should the owner be stopped and searched by a police officer or security guard.
Tapered pocket stick in anodized aluminum.
Pocket stick lengths vary a bit, with the tapered aluminum sticks often a bit shorter than the nontapered wooden, plastic, or metal sticks. This may make a difference to you depending on how you choose to carry your pocket stick. I know that the length of my polymer koppo is perfect for the size of my pockets, while a shorter or heavier stick might slip inside rather than sitting where I prefer to keep it.
Be advised, when selecting a pocket stick, that if you carry it as a keychain and use it with your car keys, it might be possible for the weight of the stick and keys to cause some kind of problem with your ignition. I've never had this problem myself and find it hard to believe, but I've been told by others that the possibility exists. Personally, I think you'd have to have a brick attached to your car key before it would be an issue.
If you prefer your pocket stick smaller rather than longer, which puts it in the "fist load" category as it shrinks to fit completely in your palm, you may prefer the Shomer-Tec Ti-Bop. This titanium fist load is very comfortable (the knurling is just right, in my opinion), light, strong, and has an elastic finger loop that eliminates the need for tedious sizing and resizing of the loop. The Ti-Bop cannot be used as a keychain, however, so be aware that you're now carrying something that a police officer might consider "reverse brass knuckles."
ITEMS TO AVOID
There are a few pocket-stick-style implements on the market, relatively common in martial arts catalogs and stores, that I do not recommend. Any of the metal pocket sticks incorporating concealed blades are poor choices. Such a device will get you in a great deal of trouble if its true nature is discovered by a curious law enforcement officer. As the blade takes a great deal of time to remove and reattach to the body of the "stick," it cannot be employed when you need it anyway -- rendering the whole device an exercise in folly. The risks outweigh the dubious benefits. The same is true for the pocket sticks that look like metal kubotans and are hollow inside for carrying metal "throwing spikes."
The "Ninja Keyrings" available that have metal protrusions that thrust out between the fingers are similarly poor ideas. For one thing, it's difficult to see these devices as keychains -- they practically scream "offensive weapon." For another thing, they're bulky, awkward, and difficult to carry comfortably. Don't waste your money on these.
PURCHASING POCKET STICKS
One source for pocket sticks is Self Defense Gear. They provided me with excellent service, superb customer communication, and genuine enthusiasm for the concept of self-defense. Their plain metal kubotan-style pocket stick was of noticeably better quality than the (albeit lighter) kubotan I purchased elsewhere (foreground). The site also has an extensive selection of tapered aluminum pocket sticks.
What makes SDG unique, however (and the reason I recommend them by name here), is the willingness of its staff to take existing materials and ideas discussed online and make them reality -- reality you can buy and with which you can equip yourself. Borrowing the koppo concept and applying it to their stock of tapered metal sticks, SDG produces a hybrid called the "Koppo-ton" that combines the two in a single package.
Because the Koppo-tons are made from existing stock, they can be had in the same colors as the standard aluminum pocket sticks. These are well-made, strong, and light, though the precision grooves machined into the body will feel almost sharp to some hands. If you're used to the wider grooves on wooden pocket sticks or standard kubotans, it make take a little while for you to become accustomed to the tactile sensation these produce.
While I imagine it is difficult to drill out aluminum neatly, the Koppo-tons display good workmanship. Each Koppo-ton comes complete with instructions for adjusting the finger loop. You'll need a pair of scissors, a lighter, and of course the stick itself. The same adjustment applies to any koppo that has a paracord finger loop, so I'll walk you through it here.
1. Adjust the Koppo-ton's loop around your ring and middle fingers until you are comfortable. The loop must be tight enough so the stick will be retained when you open your hand, but not so tight that you can't comfortably slip the loop on and off your fingers. (Wrestling to pull the thing on your fingers defeats the purpose if you need the stick in a hurry.)
2. Use a loose knot as you adjust your finger loop. One end should already be tightly knotted, so you're adjusting the free end only. (There's no need to multiply variables.) Repeat the process as many times as necessary, finally knotting tightly the free end of the paracord when you are satisfied. Don't cut that cord until you're convinced it's the right length, or you'll have to get more and start all over again. Once you've got it just right, clip the excess.
3. Burn the end of the paracord so it won't fray. Melt the knot itself a bit to make sure it won't come loose. A supply of paracord and a disposable lighter are must-haves for koppo or Koppo-ton owners.
There is no excuse for not carrying a pocket stick, provided there are no laws where you live forbidding them. A powerful, portable, simple device that greatly amplifies your ability to deliver force when necessary, the pocket stick is an overlooked and underestimated self-defense tool. While the material, shape, length, and design of your pocket stick is a matter of personal preference, the basic concept behind the device is one that has been applied successfully for centuries.
Do not ignore it.